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CP clashes with union over scheduling, workplace fatigue

Employer launches website; union releases fatigue-management guide


(Canadian OH&S News) — The Canadian Pacific Railway (CP) continues to dispute publicly and privately with one of its unions, the Teamsters Canada Rail Conference, about the issue of fatigue among railway employees. The union has accused the railway of allowing unpredictable shift schedules that prevent workers from getting enough rest and even discouraging them from booking unfit (COHSN, Oct. 18).

In response, CP launched a new website, WorkRestAndTimeOff.ca, on Nov. 8. The site is intended as a fact-based resource about the corporation’s policies and procedures on employee breaks and time off. It includes information on what workers are entitled to in terms of rest and breaks, as well as on past union negotiations and more.

“There’s a lot of myth, inside and outside of our organization, with respect to what the expectations and what the opportunities are to take rest and time off in the railway industry,” said Peter Edwards, CP’s vice president of people, explaining the motivation behind the website. “We never make anyone go to work. It is the rule in all of our agreements. It says if you’re tired, you call in unfit. We’ve never proposed taking that away.”

Edwards said that CP gave employees ample opportunities for rest and time off, but noted that the rest periods were not mandatory and that the company had pushed for compulsory time off in negotiations. “People may or may not take any amount of rest on a given day,” he said, elaborating that it was up to the employees to manage their own time. “I’d say the majority, they do a pretty good job. In fact, they do a good job of managing their life and work and rest.

“We want to make sure people have good, predictable schedules. We want to make sure that people have good time off. And that’s quality-of-life consideration.”

Teamsters national president Doug Finnson called WorkRestAndTimeOff.ca an “incomplete” website with a lot of untruthful information.

“To be blunt, it’s an amateur act. It’s a very poor representation and a very misleading representation of reality,” said Finnson. “They’re blaming the workers for the problem. It’s so beneath a company that should be better.”

On Nov. 9, the union released a nine-page document, a Fatigue Risk Management Guiding Philosophy, to the public. The document, which the Teamsters have already shared with government and industry representatives as well as CP, details the union’s proposals for managing workplace fatigue through policy and scientific research.

“The document is a foundation of how we’re going to be moving forward,” explained Finnson. “We’re building a foundation of our fatigue-management system from the ground up. And so that’s really the foundation of everything we’re doing. And that’s going to govern our discussions with CN, CP, Bombardier, anybody that we deal with.”

He added that the union had hired a fatigue specialist to assist them in their research, “so that anything we do is grounded in science and we can justify doing it,” he said. “So we’re confident that the basis of our fatigue science is sound.”

Edwards referred to the Guiding Philosophy as “a nice general statement,” but felt that it did not provide anything “actionable” with which to work. He maintained that many CP employees worked excessive hours by their own choice, not because they were forced to do so through unpredictable shifts.

“I can’t think of one in all the industries I’ve been in where a person can say, ‘No, I want to do my next shift now,’ and we have to comply,” he said. “There’s absolutely no need for fatigue, no room for fatigue.”

While railway operations run on nonstop schedules, Edwards added, workers are not required to be available 24/7. Regarding claims that employees were ordered to start work at unpredictable times, he said, “It makes a good story; it just doesn’t happen to be true.”

Finnson said that the Teamsters had been successful in negotiating better scheduling systems with Canadian National, Bombardier and Toronto’s GO Transit, but that CP was making bargaining difficult with unacceptable concessions and false representations of failed negotiations. He accused CP of blaming everybody except itself for the ongoing employee fatigue problems.

“They’ve declared war on workers,” he said. “It’s absolutely ridiculous what’s taking place there.”